Friday, February 22, 2008

In the same boat ... looking other way

The other day Pra.., Sya.. and Vai... visited my office regarding web hosting of Dept. Soc. I was recollecting some of the blogs of the IITians I visited in recent times. I was refering to them Kriti's May 24, 2007 post titled 'Happy Sad' at and few others. They sat patiently giving an ear to issues, beyond their agenda hardly uttering a word, perhaps fearing it would make the discussion even longer. As they left I thought I should read these three individual's blogs to know what is occupying their mind these days. Just a curiosity! I couldn't locate any blog for Vai.. and Sya..'s one was all hi-tech. I have read Pra..'s blog before, his obsession with low CGPA. This time I could see his frustration regarding B.Tech. project allotment held few weeks back and how easily I could relate it to my frustration over the same issue. Yes, we are in the same boat .... but, unfortunately, not looking at each other!!

Let me explain how it is though we belong to two different ends of the spectrum. Pra.. is unhappy because he didn't get the faculty member to work with due to his poor CGPA. The BTP allotment here is strictly on the basis of CGPA, the choice is entirely given to students and not to faculty members. Also there is no first round, second round business. The advantage of this - perhaps it is better than any other method to support 'meritocracy'. The disadvantage - perhaps is in the form of two self-sustaining vicious cycles. The toppers work in a particular area, with particular faculty - does better work that draws attention and also get better grade. This attracts toppers of next batch to that area and that particular faculty member creating a self sustaining cycle of excellence. One can imagine what happens to the area or the faculty members where students join because they have no other option (due to lower CGPA), demotivated and in general (exceptions aside) they do not like academics or do not want to work hard ... with mind alreay pivoted elsewhere. Poor work output, poor grade (my two current final year students didn't get time to meet me after registration, after two emails one on 5th Feb. and next on 20th Feb. with the threat of deregistration they came to my office yesterday only to say that they will begin project work after mid-sem exam.) and next year we have disinterested bottomers, left with no option, flocking this arena. And this leads to non-uniform growth in area of research or faculty members competing with each other to get better students in their group in a manner which everybody cannot follow.

I belong to the second group. The area in which I work may not be interesting, as a person I may not be exciting, ... And, one can find from this tone there is something common between the feelings of both ... frustrations, failures... One, not being able to work with the faculty member he would have liked, the other not being able to work with the students he would have liked. IIT provides many a opportunities. It is not for the students to think about uniform growth and other broader aspects. They stay here for a short span and are well within their rights to do whatever they consider are best for their careers. My best wishes to them. We, the faculty members are here for longer tenure and our perspectives are different. The students are here to exploit the system while our job is to manage (create, sustain values) the system.

It is irony that the miserables do get a chance to meet. I regret not allowing some people in the Saturday extra classes on signal processing and pattern recognition. Again it was CGPA that stopped me. I was worried if those students don't do well in exam I would have to explain somewhere why I had given indirect extra load to students who otherwise are finding it difficult. It was a mistake. The entire thing! And this year we backed out from a rerun of that training programme (with current 2nd year) once we saw the BTP allotment list. No point being hyperactive! IIT system provides options to faculty members too. Let the time and energy be devoted to more useful things.

I would like to end this post in a note which may be surprisingly positive. (1) Even with so called bottomers our group generated output which is comparable, if not better compared to some of the groups where toppers join. Healthy competition! We have not run off the field! (2) This year initially I was allotted three students with CGPA 7.0x, 5.8x, 5.3x respectively from the bottom 10 of a 51 strong batch of which one was moved to some other faculty member (after strong persuation of Prof.-in-Charge, my logic was - I understand that better groups will get better students, but isn't it responsibility of better groups to accept some not-so-good students and make virtues out of them, why all the responsibility on us etc.). The two students when met me for the first time were asked if they want to work on a problem which is (i) easy and considerable work has already been done by our group till date or (ii) a new, challenging problem. They without hesitation selected (ii).